With the return of Habs captain Saku Koivu to practice Friday, the expected return of Carey Price some time next week (perhaps?) and Christopher Higgins by the end of this month, the Canadiens are going to have to make some decisions regarding the Hamilton bunch currently skating with the big club.
There were five of them in uniform for that 6-2 thumping of the Maple Leafs on Thursday night, or one quarter of the lineup, and you can't help but get the feeling that they are a part of some mini-reality show right now to try and impress Guy Carbonneau and the coaching staff.
So who would be the first sent down when Koivu makes his return? Right now, I have no idea, and that's why I'm sitting here typing this blog instead of sitting in Carbonneau's office.
Matt D'Agostini was clearly riding an adrenaline rush when he was first called up because he's now gone seven games without scoring, and he's lacking a lot of the jam that made him so effective in scoring four goals in his first five games following his call-up. He's not going to the net with the same purpose as before, and to me that was his best quality in those five games. His breakaway against the Leafs was actually a pretty heads-up play by D'Agostini because he was supposed to go to the bench for a change but saw that he was in behind the defence, so he stayed out there a bit longer. Unfortunately, he had too much time to think about how long he'd gone without a goal and I feel that might have led to him shooting wide.
D'Agostini has to be feeling pressure from Max Pacioretty, who now has three points in four games, but he too will have to prove he can play like this on a consistent basis after the initial rush of making the NHL starts to wear off. The one thing that's impressed me the most with him is how he makes very smart decisions with the puck, particularly when it comes to finding open men on the ice with his passing, a skill I didn't know he had.
I truly believe that D'Agostini and Pacioretty are in a fight to see who stays and who goes, if not when Koivu comes back then definitely when Higgins does.
The more I think about it, the more I feel Yannick Weber had a great debut for the Habs. But I would want to see him in a game where there is some degree of pressure involved before being able to fully evaluate his play. I thought he brought a new element to the power play, didn't really make any glaring mistakes and looked pretty level-headed for a guy playing his first NHL game against the Leafs in Montreal. But Weber's going to have a tough time sticking around beyond Koivu's return because in order for him to do so, I think he'll have to bump one of D'Agostini or Pacioretty off the roster, and I'm not sure the Canadiens would do that.
As for Kyle Chipchura, he comes exactly as advertised, and he's also a player I don't think the Canadiens would mind keeping around so he can sit in the press box and spell guys from time to time. In the case of the first three, they need to play, whether it's in Montreal ot Hamilton. The fact Steve Bégin was scratched against the Leafs with an apparent "cold" plays in Chipchura's favour, I would think (does anyone believe for a second that Bégin would sit out with a cold?).
Finally, Marc Denis will not make it past the return of Carey Price, but that's obvious.
It's also possible no one will be sent down when Koivu returns because I don't think Alex Tanguay has been placed on injured reserve as of yet, simply because his name appears among the scratches on game nights. So doing that could extend the audition process by a few weeks until Higgins is ready. At that point, I think it will come down to how effective Weber is playing the point on the power play, because if he is then it will likely be one of D'Agostini or Pacioretty headed to the minors.